The Oxford Martyrs

While “Bloody Mary” is a name that didn´t come about until after the death of the woman it´s said to describe, Mary I, and it maybe was an unfair epitaph, there is no avoiding the fact that there were substantial religious persecutions during her reign, much more so than during the brother that preceded her or the sister that succeeded her.

Of all the martyrs she created during her reign, the maybe most notable were Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, together known as the Oxford Martyrs.

Born in 1487 Hugh Latimer managed to “cover” three Tudor monarchs, and even if he hadHugh_Latimer_from_NPG seen both up´s and downs during the reign of Henry VIII, whom he managed to provoke in the 1520´s by advocating an English translation of the Bible in a time when Tyndale´s translation of the New Testament had just been banned this resulted in a summons before Thomas Wolsey in 1528 who gave him an admonition and a warning. But the tables would soon turn, and as Wolsey fell from grace, the star of Latimer began to rise as he became one of the leading reformers at Cambridge.

In 1535 he was appointed Bishop at Worchester cathedral where he continued to advocate both reformed teachings as well as the destruction of religious icons. In May 1538, he gave the held the last sermon for the Franciscan friar John Forest before the latter was burned at the stake, the downfall of whom had partially, and ironically, been brought about by Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer at the behest of Thomas Cromwell.

But in a fickle world it was only a year later that Latimer himself was sent to the Tower for opposing Henry´s six articles, something which also resulted in Latimer losing his bishopric. In 1546 he was sent back to the Tower for his ideas on reforms, to be released only when Edward VI ascended to the throne. He was restored to favor and was appointed to a position as a court preacher.

Hugh Latimer´s time in the sun was however as short as the reign of Edward, once Mary became Queen and embarked on her mission to restore the catholic faith, his faith was sealed, and he was arrested together with bishop Nicholas Ridley – the only one to be called bishop of London and Westminster – who was a thorn in Mary´s side no only due to his teachings, but also for his support of Lady Jane Grey. He had also been highly involved in the Vestments controversy with John Hooper in the early 1550´s and a written debate between them represent the first written documentation of a split within British Protestantism.

800px-Nicholas_Ridley_from_NPGWhen it became obvious that Edward VI wouldn´t survive his illness, Nicholas Ridley was highly involved in bringing Jane Grey to the throne instead of Edward´s older sister Mary, and on July 9th 1553 he was at St Paul’s Cross, giving a sermon in which he stressed the fact that both daughters of Henry VIII were indeed bastards.

As we all know, support for Jane faded as Mary was advancing towards London, and on the day Mary was proclaimed queen, Nicholas Ridley was arrested and brought to the Tower together with other supporters’ of Lady Jane. The month of February 1554 was spent dealing with the immediate circle around Jane, and several executions took place, including that of Jane herself. When this was over, time had come to deal with the leaders of the English reformation, something Mary obviously wanted nothing to do with. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley was sent to the Bocardo prison in Oxford together with Thomas Cranmer.

Thomas Cranmer had assisted Wolsey in the work to have Henry´s marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled and was allegedly also the one who came up with the idea to gather the opinion on the marital situation from the universities, something that took him on journeysThomas_Cranmer_by_Gerlach_Flicke through a Europe in which some countries had already moved closer to Protestantism, and he got in contact with important figure heads of the reformation, both on this trip and during travels as a resident ambassador to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, nephew of Kathrine of Aragon. In Cranmer´s mission it was included that he should convince Charles to give his acceptance to the divorce, something which never happened.

 

In 1532 Cranmer was appointed archbishop of Canterbury, and as such he denounced the marriage between Henry and Katherine, going as far as threatening Henry with excommunication if he didn´t stay away from his wife of more than 20 years as well as mother of his only surviving child at this point. This makes it more than credible that when Mary I struck against Cranmer, there was more than accusations of heresy behind her wrath.

The_Martyrs_Memorial_against_the_west_side_of_BalliolDuring the following years, Cranmer would become closer and closer to Henry, and was involved in the downfall of both Thomas Cromwell and Katherine Howard. He led Edward´s funeral on August 8, and just over a month later he was sent to the Tower, and sentenced to death in November that same year, meaning that Cranmer spent longer time than Ridley and Latimer, who were sentenced in April 1555 and burned at the stake in Oxford on October 16th 1555. Thomas Gardiner had been brought there to watch Latimer andMartyrs'_execution_location,_Broad_Street,_Oxford,_Mar_2015 Ridley burn, but he himself wasn´t burned at the stake until six months later on March 21st 1556.

He was however burned in the same spot, and for the three Martyrs a memorial has been erected in Oxford, as well as a cross on Broad Street where the stake is assumed to have been standing.

 

 

 

 

 

Encyclopedia.com

 

Thomas Cranmer – Jasper Ridley

 

Thomas Cranmer, A Life – Diarmaid MacCulloch

 

Hugh Latimer – Harold S. Darby

 

 

Photo: Martyrs Memorial – Ozeye

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The White Ship

When the White Ship – la Blanch-Nef – sank on November 25th 1120, it was not only a220px-WhiteShipSinking tragedy in lives lost at sea, it was the spark that would linger long enough to be behind the civil war that would start in 1135 and rage for almost 20 years.

The passengers aboard the long ship – which was owned by Thomas FitzStephen, son of Stephen FitzAirard who had been the captain of Mora, the ship which brought William the Conqueror over the channel to England for the first time – was not only the cream of the young Norman nobility, it also carried William the Aetheling, only legitimate son if Henry I and therefore the heir to the crown and after his mother´s death sometimes referred to as rex designatus, king designate, as he had taken over her role as regent when Henry was in Normandy. On the ship was also Henry´s two illegitimate children Richard of Lincoln and Matilda FitzRoy, Countess of Perche.

There was cause for celebration because not only was young William relatively newly-wed, in 1119 he had married Matilda whose father was Faulk V, Count of Anjou and the future king of Jerusalem, he had also only weeks before been made the new Duke of Normandy.

The Dukedom had been handed over to him by his father Henry I, and was a step towards becoming the next king, and also a sign that William was one of the important political powers in Europe of the time.

BL_Royal_20_A._ii_f._6v._Henry_I__White_Ship1-e1369118927870So celebrated they did. Not only the young heir to the throne and his nobles, but also the crew of the ship, which at least with modern eyes seems insane. But the fact remains, that while the ship still was lying at the harbor of Barfleur, everyone aboard got heavily intoxicated. Some of the passengers on board clearly got worried and left the ship, not even in those days everyone thought it a wise idea to travel over open water with heavily drunk people. One of those who was better safe than sorry was Stephen of Blois, cousin of William and the one who would turn out to be the actual king once Henry I passed.

As the party went on, a group of clerics who arrived to bless the ship before it went on its journey was sent away, something which to some became the explanation to what later happened.

But the disaster was the result of alcohol in combination with youthful stupidity. King Henry had left ahead in another ship, and all of a sudden someone, some say prince William himself, others say someone in the entourage, dared the skipper that even though hours had passed, the White Ship was fast enough to not only catch up with the king´s great warship, but also outrun it and arrive first in England.  Most likely it was the alcohol which made this pass as a good idea. It wasn´t. But the skipper accepted.

The chronicler William of Malmesbury claimed that once the ship had weighed anchor,

she “flew swifter than the winged arrow”, but speed didn´t do much in bringing the large party closer to England, in fact they barely got out of the harbor. Just at the mouth of it, there was, and still is, a sharp rock – still visible just under the surface still today – which the ship crashed into. One of all the things we will never know is if this was a result of the oars men´s intoxication or something else, but it left a huge hole in the ship´s side, and water started pouring in.

As they were expected to, the main concern of everyone was to get the heir to the throne to safety, and William the Aetheling did get into a small dinghy.

For anyone who has read the novel Pillars of the Earth where the White Ship disaster sets the scene for the story, or seen the mini-series based on the book, it may be considered a fact that William the Aetheling was murdered during his attempt to get away from the ship. The actual fact is in a way even more tragic.

Among his following was his half-sister Matilda – obviously not the Matilda who would fight Stephen of Blois in the Anarchy for decades later – and as William was being rowed away from the scene of the disaster, he supposedly heard his drowning sister cry for help and ordered the boat to turn around to save her.

But Matilda was not alone in the cold November water, and as the boat reached the spot where she was, panic erupted among the other people desperate to save their lives. The small boat turned over, and instead of being brought to land and safety, William the Aetheling drowned not far from the harbor.

William´s wife had been rescued in another boat and made it safely to shore. She went on to become a nun and eventually the Abbess at the monastery of Fontevrault.

Henry_II_of_England_wlWhen the news reached England a day or so later, no one dared to tell the king, knowing full well the force of his rage. Eventually a servant boy couldn´t keep the dreadful secret anymore, but fell to his knees at the king´s feet and told him of the tragedy. Allegedly the king fainted and had to be carried to bed. It is said that Henry I didn´t smile again after having received the news of the death of his son.

Apart from the grief of his father, the death of William the Aetheling also threw England into a crisis of succession which would at the time of Henry´s death in 1135 lead to the civil war known as The Anarchy.  As the contemporary historian William of Malmesbury wrote; “….No ship ever brought so much misery to England”

 

Sources:

The Plantagenets – The Warrior Kings and Queens that made England – Dan Jones

Thomas Becket, Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim  – John Guy

History of England – Simon Schama

William (1103–1120)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography/J. F. A. Mason

Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy – Judith A. Green

William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England – J.A. Guiles